Posts Tagged ‘Rookie of the Year


Can Braves rotation withstand the loss of Vazquez?

It’s day two of the Braves’ voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, a program created and designed by former pitching coach Leo Mazzone to help the team’s pitchers get back on the mound early to alleviate the off-season rust.

The program, which was formerly known as “Camp Leo”, is now run by Roger McDowell but still preaches the same formula for success that has helped the Atlanta Braves build a pitching dynasty over the years.

This year’s camp opened yesterday with the club’s starting staff already facing a bounty of questions about how they plan to duplicate last season’s numbers.

Braves starters led the majors with a 3.52 ERA while compiling the second most innings (986), proving to be a steady and durable force in 2009.

Entering Spring Training this year, Atlanta is trying to maintain that level of excellence minus one very critical piece — their workhorse ace Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) was traded to the Yankees in December after the Braves found themselves with one starter too many.

Many baseball pundits question whether this year’s staff can withstand the loss of Vazquez?

If the Braves rotation hopes to replicate last season’s success, the majority of the load that was carried by Vazquez now shifts to 34-year-old Tim Hudson.

The Braves opted to re-sign Hudson to a three-year, $28-million dollar extension in November after the former 20-game winner made a successful return from Tommy John surgery late last year.

In seven starts after re-joining the Braves rotation, Hudson went 2-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.

Hudson joins a staff comprised of Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami.

Jurrjens and Hanson are the team’s rising young stars and should serve as the backbone of this rotation for the foreseeable future.

Atlanta should also benefit from getting a full season out of Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting this winter.

The Braves called up their rookie sensation in June and watched Hanson soar to an 11-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

Atlanta is hoping Lowe bounces back and enjoys a resurgent season after the veteran righty struggled in his first year with the Braves.

While still netting 15 wins for the club, Lowe also posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

Kawakami is expected to improve in his second season in the U.S.

The Japanese standout was a 33-year-old rookie last season and ended the year with an impressive 3.86 ERA despite a 7-12 record.

Despite losing Vazquez, Atlanta’s rotation is still stacked with a plethora of talent and a good mix of youth and experience.

Whether the talent on paper translates to wins on the field rests largely on not just the starters but the entire staff’s ability to stay healthy.

Atlanta’s additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito at the back end of their bullpen should benefit the rotation by giving the team security late in games.

But, with Wagner’s history of injuries and the age of these hurlers, it is critical that both relievers don’t get overworked in an effort to preserve them for the duration of the season.

The good news is the always pitching rich Braves have the pieces in place yet again to put up impressive numbers while contending for a playoff spot.

It is not often a team could lose a Cy Young candidate, like the Braves did in Vazquez, and still have a chance to have arguably one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

All these years later, the importance of a pre-spring training pitching camp is not lost on the Braves or the pitchers who jump at the opportunity to participate in it.


D-Lowe poised for LA return as Braves finish off Pads…

Braves pitcher Derek Lowe

Braves pitcher Derek Lowe

Atlanta Braves ace Derek Lowe is set to oppose his former mates on Thursday in Los Angeles as the Braves open a four-game set against the NL West leading Dodgers.

Lowe spent the previous four seasons with the Dodgers before opting to sign with Atlanta as a free agent this past winter. He is currently 11-7 on the year with a 4.21 ERA for the Braves.

In his last start in Atlanta, which was also against his former team, Lowe pitched six innings allowing three runs on five hits. In 66 career starts at Dodgers Stadium, Lowe is 33-23 with a 3.21 ERA.

As Atlanta waits for the challenge of facing the mighty Dodgers, they can savor their series win against the Padres, which was capped with a 6-2 victory Wednesday afternoon.

Rookie Tommy Hanson continued to make a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors with another solid outing in the Braves win.

Hanson allowed two runs on five hits in six innings with five strikeouts. The 22-year old rookie improved to 6-2 on the year.

The Braves hope to end their west coast swing on a high note by putting forth their best effort against the Dodgers.

If Atlanta can win the series, their chances of playing October baseball become that much greater.


Is Frenchy’s time up?

Me and Jeff Francoeur in Pittsburgh, Aug 2006.

Me and Jeff Francoeur in Pittsburgh, Aug 2006.

“The Natural’s” name is circulating in trade rumors?

Oh, how the tide has turned.

When Jeff Francoeur broke in with his hometown Braves in July of 2005, he was instantly labeled the next Chipper Jones. He was touted the “golden boy” that was going to help usher the next wave of top tiered Braves talent into Atlanta.

Francoeur or “Frenchy,” as he is affectionately referred to by his teammates and Braves faithful, got off to a monster start. He hit a 3-run home run, which was his first major league hit, in his big league debut. He ended up hitting .300 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI in 67 games his rookie season, which helped him finish 3rd in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

In the midst of his hot streak came numerous accolades, including the infamous August 2005 cover of Sports Illustrated where Francoeur was referred to as “The Natural.” What at the moment seemed like a precursor for a successful major league career, now seems like the beginning of a nightmare jinx that seems to have followed the Braves right fielder.

Francoeur’s fall from grace was about as quick as his rise to fame. In July of 2008, mired in the worst slump of his career, Frenchy was demoted to AA Mississippi to work on his swing in an effort to improve on his unsettling .234 batting average.

To say Francoeur’s stock had fallen was an understatement.

A move like this by Braves management was unprecedented and sent shockwaves throughout the city of Atlanta. A team that is known for being fiercely loyal and supportive of their players even during the hardest of times was sending a message to their young outfielder.

No one, not even “The Natural,” is untouchable.

Francoeur was recalled to the majors just three days later after a series of Braves injuries, but his slump continued and he ended the season with a .239 average.

Coming into the 2009 season, many around baseball viewed this season as Francoeur’s turning point with the Braves.

How much longer was Atlanta willing to be patient?

It seems we may have our answer.

In 66 at-bats this month, Francoeur is hitting a miserable .197 with a .214 on-base percentage and a .273 slugging percentage. On the season he is hitting just .259 with only 3 home runs. The decrease in power from Frenchy is startling and has severely stunted production from the Braves outfield.

Yes, Francoeur is only 25, and yes, there is still a great chance he could rebound and find the stroke that garnered him such praise early in his career.

However, for the Braves and Frenchy, a change of scenery could be in the best interest of both parties.

Atlanta may choose to explore possible trade options for Francoeur with the deadline approaching in July. But with his stock so low, could the Braves even get a decent return at this point?

Shocking to even ponder such thoughts but it’s something the Braves brass may have to do in order to improve their sputtering offense and allow them the opportunity to stay in contention for a playoff spot this season.


Happy Birthday Chipper!

Chipper Jones during batting practice in Philadelphia, PA.

Chipper Jones during batting practice in Philadelphia, PA.

Happy 37th Birthday Chipper Jones!

Wait, did I say 37? That must be a typo.

It feels like just yesterday that I was 11 years old enamored with the wide-eyed “rook,” high socks and all, manning third base for the 1995 World Champion Atlanta Braves.

Ah Champions of baseball! Chipper Jones was instantly an Atlanta sports hero and icon, helping to lead a franchise that had been to three previous, consecutive postseasons and two World Series’ to their first ever title in his first full season in the majors.

Fans weren’t surprised. Atlanta was buzzing about Chipper long before he made his Major League debut. The DeLand, Fla native was chosen with the 1st pick in the 1990 Amateur draft by the Bravos. Manager Bobby Cox was the General Manager at the time which was the beginning of a storied, now nineteen year relationship between the two.

The road to the bigs wasn’t easy for Atlanta’s golden boy. Chipper was drafted a shortstop but was moved to third base in the minors before making his Major League debut in September of 1993. Chipper was expected to compete for a job in the Braves outfield (as he was blocked by Terry Pendleton at third base and left fielder Ron Gant had suffered a broken leg in the off-season) but tore his ACL and as a result missed the entire year.

In 1995, it was finally Chipper’s time to shine. Jones finished runner-up to the Dodgers phenom pitcher Hideo Nomo in the Rookie of the Year balloting. He led all major league rookies in RBI and runs scored, among other categories. But most notable was his appearance in the World Series which finally found the Braves victorious. Atlanta defeated Cleveland in six games.

There was no sophomore slump for Chipper, as he proved in 1996 that he was the real deal. Jones helped lead the Braves back to the World Series. However, the Yankees dashed the Braves hopes of winning back-to-back championships, and in six games defeated Atlanta.

Chipper’s personal accolades continued to pour in. In 1999, he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He became the first player to ever hit over .300 with 40 or more homeruns (45) and doubles (41), drawing 100 or more walks (126), RBI (110), and runs scored (116) and stealing 20 or more bases (25). Chipper led the Braves back to the World Series that season but Atlanta was swept in four games by the Yankees.

Chipper will go down in history as one of the greatest switch hitters of all-time. He is behind only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray on the all-time switch hitter career home run list.

The lifetime Brave was also selected to six All-Star games, won the Silver Slugger at 3rd base twice, had eight consecutive 100 RBI seasons (1996-2003) and nabbed the 2008 National League batting title.

This past Spring Training, Chipper inked a three-year, 42-million dollar contract extension with Atlanta. Chipper’s dream of playing his entire career with the Braves now seems like it will become a reality.

Braves fans can now rejoice!

It has been almost two decades that I have watched Chipper sport the tomahawk across his chest. When I think of the Atlanta Braves, I think of Chipper Jones. The two go hand-in-hand. It’s all I’ve ever known as a fan and it’s all he’s ever known as a player.

As a person, he’s grown and evolved into a man that all of his fans, myself atop the list, should be proud of. Chipper’s human and he’s made mistakes. I don’t put him on a pedestal, but I do believe his imperfections and flaws make him a relatable hero, which has given me a personal rooting interest.

So today, I salute you Chipper Jones… for the iconic ballplayer you are and the honorable man that you’ve become. May this year bring you continued success, personally and professionally and good health, on and off the field.

And maybe, just maybe, if we are all lucky… may it bring you and Atlanta another World Championship!


Jurrjens struggles as Braves drop grapefruit league opener…

Jurrjens warming up in the 'pen

Jurrjens warming up in the 'pen

Jair Jurrjens got the call in the Braves grapefruit league opener against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fl. Unfortunately for Atlanta, he wasn’t sharp and struggled early, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits in 2 innings in the Braves eventual 5-4 loss to the Tigers.

Jurrjens, who was facing his former organization who traded him to Atlanta for shortstop Edgar Renteria after the 2007 season, failed to exact revenge against the Tigers as he lacked good command of his pitches. Despite his shaky start, Jurrjens seemingly has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments to be ready by the start of the season.

The right-hander opted not to play for his native country The Netherlands in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, instead staying in camp with the Braves.

Jurrjens is coming off a strong rookie season that saw him win 13 games with a staff high 188-1/3 innings pitched. Jurrjens finished an impressive 3rd in the National League Rookie of the Year race.



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